Followership – be the leader your team needs, not the leader they think they want.

As a leader, you’re the link in a chain – the link between the organization and your team. You need to follow and lead to maintain a healthy balance and not stress the link too much. You follow the organizations direction, it’s vision, it’s mandate, it’s policies, and you lead your team that way. Too much movement in one direction, such as an emphasis on following and not enough on leading, or vice versa, and the link will be tensioned, sometimes to the point of breaking. You need to move with the ebb and flow, and for this to work harmoniously, you need both leadership and followership.

Followership is about understanding what your leaders want – understanding the vision for the organization and where it is going. Your job as a leader is to transfer that onto your team and move them in the same direction. That’s the ideal situation.

The person who follows their supervisors blindly, the ‘yes’ person, is well known. There are pitfalls, mainly for those that are under the ‘yes’s’ leadership. But what is talked about less, is the leader who is a ‘yes’ person to the team they are leading. They think leadership is about pleasing their team and making sure the team is supported in the direction they want to go.

So you’ve got a leader solely looking down at their team. They stand in their team’s corner, often viewing it as us vs. them type situation with senior leadership. The team they lead, love them. That makes the leader think they’ve got it down, and the friction that they usually have with their own supervisor is put down to that person’s incompetence, lack of understanding, micro-management etc.

Yet the irony of it all is that the leader who always says yes to their team isn’t leading at all; they are following, and unfortunately in the wrong direction. They are following their team, and they’re allowing their team to move in the direction they wish to go.

They believe this is the epitome of being a good leader, but what they’re actually doing is letting their team drift away from the organization and everyone around them. The team becomes ‘that team’, that no one really wants to work with and who have a reputation of just doing what they wish. This leader lacks what they think they have the most of; courage. Courage to say no. Courage to have difficult conversations. Courage to not be ‘liked’. Courage.

The team drifts away so much so that the pressure in the chain and the system, the link that is the leader and the link that they must nourish, is at risk of failing. And when it fails it almost exclusively fails in the direction of the leader who was a follower to the team they were supposed to be leading.

So, next time you think you’re being a good leader by doing what your team wants and letting them go in their own direction, ask yourself if that’s the direction of the organization. If it’s not, then you’re failing your team and the organization. And it’s your team that will ultimately end up the losers.

So stop being the leader who just says yes to your team, and start to realize that to be an effective leader you have to be a great follower.

Don’t be the leader your team wants. Be the leader your team needs. The leader your organization needs.

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